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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

TOS Crew review of Write Shop Story Builders

Oh, we had fun with this one. I just don't do much creative writing with my kids. And that's sad, considering what a great communication skill writing is and how much I enjoyed it in school. We tried daily journaling a few years ago and soon quit. We get easily sidetracked by other new studies. Our unit studies have quite a few writing assignments built in but they can be sort of dull, especially for my third-grader. I had been thinking we needed to do a lot better with writing regularly and I needed an easy method to make writing fun again. Write Shop Story Builders was one of those free downloads that came, rather mysteriously, just in time. I got two of the programs to use; World of People and World of Animals, both by Kim Kautzer and Debra Oldar.

The concept behind Story Builders is very simple: a student from grades k-12 chooses at least 4 story cards to make a "story starter". You get two printable identical decks of cards with words on them. One deck will be in color and the other will be black and white so you can use whichever deck you choose to print. You cut the cards out after printing onto card stock (laminate beforehand if you want them to last longer). The words on them fall into categories such as characters, character traits, settings, and plots (it is suggested that you print the different categories onto colored paper for easy sorting later on. For example, print all the character trait cards on purple, all the plot cards on yellow, etc.). Store your card categories inside Ziploc bags, small jars, envelopes, whatever method works for you.

Now its time to use the sorted cards to write your story. There are six suggested ways to do this with children of writing age. You can try the Round Robin method, where each student takes four cards. You set a timer and each writes part of a story using the cards they have chosen to get the characters and plot started. When the timer goes off, have students trade papers and continue working on the story that is now in front of them. Do this swapping every 2-3 minutes for 4-6 rounds and then see the results you get. This one can make for some very silly stories that the kids love to hear aloud. Another neat method and one that we liked is the basic 4-card method with the daily add-a-card option. Children start by picking one card from each of the four categories. They use this to begin their story. Set a timer and have them write for 5 minutes or more, putting their pencils down as soon as it goes off. Then the next day they pick up where they left off, but first they add a new card from one of the categories, thus adding a new character or twist in the plot! Do this daily and at the end of the week you have your students tie up any loose ends and finish the story. This also makes for some imaginative creations.

There is even a narration option for using this curriculum with your non-reader. I haven't tried it yet but it looks easy to implement. My daughter, age 4, loves to read and would probably enjoy trying to make up her own stories this way.

My boys may never come to love writing the way I do, and they sometimes dread the subject. But I have to say that using these cards sure livens up your writing and really gets the child creating! We should teach children to write well and for the goal of getting grades, but whatever happened to children just writing for pleasure, to let thoughts flow freely onto paper without fear of dreaded grammatical error? That is the killer of pleasure writing---fearing those grammar errors. Most kids, it turns out, will actually enjoy the writing process if given the chance to explore it freely and not always for grades.

I think that must have happened with me. My mother taught me to love books early on. Then I must have had a teacher who encouraged me to write for fun. By 7th grade I was completing my own novels, some of them a whopping 30 pages, with all my friends as the main characters. I knew sometimes writing was for a grade but I didn't dread it or fear it, because I had grown to love it. And being an avid reader helped me to naturally pick up some grammar and that obviously helped. By my senior year I had gotten into a Creative Writing class with a dedicated, wonderful teacher, and happily worked for the school yearbook staff, produced a few more stories and poems for a school literary magazine, wrote some song lyrics, and the official prom poem. Small stuff yes, but big to me at the time. Later in life I was able to write my own wedding vows, heart-felt letters to loved ones, have a couple of short articles featured in homeschool books, and now, am enjoying blogging. None of this is said with the intent to brag because I feel there is always room for improvement, but rather to praise the fact that I was encouraged to pleasure-write as a child.

Writing is a necessary skill. We must be able to effectively communicate. And so often we stifle the creative process at such a young age by focusing on correct use of grammar and punctuation in our children's work. Use this curriculum and bring the joy back into writing. Be silly, be serious, but just write! There is room to improve the child's grammar later, after we have let him be free to write without interruption or criticism.

You can use Write Shop Story Builders World of Animals or World of People card decks for all grade levels. Interchange them for variety and chances are you'll never use the same story card combination twice, especially since more card decks are being made. Check them out at www.writeshop.com

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